April 24, 2022

Barbra Streisand turns 80 today. If that doesn’t make me feel old, nothing will. By coincidence, it’s also the opening night of the first Broadway production of Funny Girl since the original launched Ms. Streisand to superstardom two thirds of a century ago. I’m sure that all means something on a cosmic level, but I can’t begin to tell you what. As a gay man, I got the diva appreciation gene but not so much the diva worship gene. I don’t make pilgrimages or overspend on concert tickets or set up little shrines in my domicile as some do. I’ve often wondered where the relationship between gay men and larger than life female entertainers comes from? I imagine it’s that many of these entertainers enter a persona of womanhood that occupies a traditional dominant male space of commanding attention, and does so with affectations that are easy to mimic, giving birth to thousands of bad drag acts. Those few times I have done classic drag, I have done it as MissClairol Channing. Carol Channing is easy for me to do. We’re roughly the same size and shape, she’s got a distinctive voice I can imitate, and a little of her goes a very long way meaning I’m not asked to drag her out terribly often. She will not be making an appearance at my birthday this year – and my Birmingham friends have all let out a collective sigh of relief.

Tonight feels like a free association night. There’s not much going on in covidland. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop now that we’re more or less pretending the pandemic is over. The virus will use our changed behaviors and how that’s all going to play out is anybody’s guess. As long as it doesn’t send another major surge through the healthcare system. It’s gotten awfully rickety and I’m thinking it’s not going to take a whole lot more for it to become nonviable. In some ways, it already is. The waits for appointments and elective procedures aren’t going down. they’re actually going up locally. The mass of retirements and departures from the sector is ratcheting down the number of services available and the timeliness of those services. There are a few common referrals I make where I can find no provider with an opening for four months, either inside of or outside of the UAB network.

Personally, gross exhaustion has been setting in from the UAB piece of my job. For various reasons, UAB Geriatrics Clinic can only offer about half the appointment slots we were able to offer pre-pandemic. We still have roughly the same number of patients. We are still trying to squeeze in new patients who desperately need our counsel and advice. We haven’t had much luck replacing departing providers. The aging Baby Boomers, having had a couple of years to contemplate themselves without major interruptions have decided they don’t like bodily change and are banging on the doors. Everyone has gotten a chance to experiment with patient portal e-mail systems, quite like them, and send in messages about every little thing. The administrative heads of health systems have had two years to dream up all sorts of projects using the big data capabilities of electronic health records are requiring more and more inputs. All of this is falling squarely on the shoulders of me and the other providers in our clinical system. Then throw in a maternity leave and a prolonged vacation before pouring in the blender and hitting frappe. Whine over. Things will get better.

I’ve been through professional periods like this before. The difference this time around is the pandemic having created a whole new set of complications – for patients, for providers, for health care systems, for society. There hasn’t been a lot of fat in the system for a long time due to the economic structures of for profit health care that have been slowly put in place over the time of my professional career, but the pandemic took the last little bits and a good portion of the muscle and skeleton as well so it’s all we little neurons can do to keep the system upright from day to day. I’ve started to think that every day I go to work, and I come out at the end of the day feeling like I haven’t left a patient in the lurch is a successful day and should be celebrated.

My performance life is going to rev up again starting next week with rehearsals beginning for the symphony next week and for The Merry Widow the week following. I have a bit of trepidation about putting that back in on top of the work stresses of the moment but I know that those sort of commitments create what I call good stress in my life rather than bad stress. Besides, I’m going to be on staycation during most of the symphony rehearsal period so it shouldn’t be a problem. And I’m only doing ensemble in The Merry Widow so I’m thinking I’ll be able to handle that without too much difficulty.

I’ve got the first 40% or so of the second volume of these Accidental Plague Diaries edited. It should be fully edited by the first of June at the current pace and I should be on schedule for an early fall completion. It’s been interesting rereading things from a year ago. It reminds me of how fast and how thoroughly our society has changed over the last few years, too fast for us to really understand what all has actually happened and what all it means. And that’s why I keep writing. Even if the pandemic were over (and I don’t believe that for a minute), the ripple effects are just beginning and are going to cause vast changes over the next decade or so. I don’t see these writings going to ten volumes (no one would read them, unless they’re the sort of person who thinks Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time needed to be a bit longer) but I won’t be surprised if there’s a volume 3 in 2023. I won’t make that decision for another year and it will depend on all sorts of things that I cannot predict at this point.

It’s coming up on the 4th anniversary of Tommy’s death so I’ve been reflecting back on him a bit this week. He’s still very much present in my life. Clothes he wore still hang in my closet. I’ve been sorting bins of miscellaneous paper and finding notes of his from various projects, theatrical and otherwise. I haven’t noticed his physical presence, but my house guest swears he’s heard him in the kitchen a time or two. (It’s probably just the cat). If he is hanging around the condo, the kitchen is the most likely place for him to be. I’m sure he’s not very happy with the way I’ve arranged it but he’s likely to approve of the new refrigerator and dishwasher as both of the ones that came with the condo decided to give up the ghost recently. I bought his favorite kind of fridge. I didn’t get his favorite brand of dishwasher as I always had trouble with the adjustable racks myself and broke more than a few of them over the years. If the new dishwasher has issues, then I’ll know Tommy’s in the kitchen and won’t rest until I get a Bosch.

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